Bahrain Grand Prix: money vs human rights?

The World Motor Sport Council – Formula One’s ruling body – is to decide today whether or not to hold the Bahrain Grand Prix in the face of violent suppression of human rights protests in the country.

The oil-rich state was due to host this year’s opening race back in March, but this was postponed due to the anti-government protests and the brutal response by the Gulf kingdom’s authorities. Indeed, according to news reports, a quarter of the staff of the government-owned Bahrain International Circuit, the site of the Grand Prix, have been arrested or dismissed in recent weeks.

Bahrain Grand Prix organisers have asked Formula 1’s governing body to reschedule rather than cancel the race, but voices are being raised against the race.

Human Rights Watch has questioned whether a successful Formula One event could be held in Bahrain, given the ongoing government campaign of arbitrary arrests, detentions and alleged torture.

Now former world champion and current president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, Damon Hill, has joined the campaign:

This crisis is an opportunity for Formula 1 to show it cares about all people and their human rights. True peace has nothing to do with creating calm through the use of violent repression.

Bahrain has restored order but the methods have been questioned by many reliable journalists and human rights organisations. If Formula 1 agrees to race in Bahrain it will forever have the blight of association with repressive methods to achieve order.

True peace can only be achieved peacefully. The right thing to do, in my view, is to not race in Bahrain until these doubts have been removed.

More concisely, driver Mark Webber has voiced opposition via Twitter:

When people in a country are being hurt, the issues are bigger than sport.

What do you think? Can Formula 1 and ethics mix?

UPDATE: FIA approves return of Bahrain Grand Prix to Formula 1 calendar – BBC.

FURTHER UPDATE: Bahrain police open fire at protesters in capital – AP. (so much for lifting the ‘state of emergency’)

I am the Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK and an occasional human rights blogger at Amnesty Blogs: Belfast & Beyond.

I’m on Twitter at @PatrickCorrigan